Well comrades, I’m not sure what the proper protocol is for disappearing for three weeks, but here we go. We’re off to chill with the Khandaan (extended family) in Karachi, which is a place of fantastic familial madness, playing cards and drinking tea all night (AFTER Ramadan), cheating at board games, and squeezing people that you haven’t seen all year.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to blog from there, I’ll have to find out when I get there. If not, please accept Eid greetings in advance and amuse yourselves as you see fit until I return to blogistan. Eat pakoras, wear your Eid clothes and hug each other in excess.
Anyway, Alhamdulillah, I can say that I’ve been really blessed to have such a genuinely nice Khandaan. For six months Aniraz and I lived with one of our uncles, and for the whole time, we were treated as family, not just by our aunt and uncle. On Eid, we gave and received gifts as part of the family, we were taken to parties and functions with the other girls as just two extra daughters. When our aunt went shopping for clothes, she brought back two extra suits, when our cousins brought back Eid gifts, they brought two extra of everything.
Apart from shopping, the people from my family have also been very generous with their love and concern. If you’re staying at the family compound, where six or seven houses belonging to family members are built next to each other, and you sneeze, someone will yell ‘Alhamdulillah’ over the boundary wall and then ask if you’ve been to the doctor yet. If not, do you need a ride? If you need clothes for a party, you can phone up a cousin, who will not only volunteer their wardrobe, but demand that you wear their nicest outfit and do your darndest to make it look good. You can’t borrow an outfit by itself, you have to take the shoes, scarf, and accessories to go with it.
Someone might think that Aniraz and I were treated with such regard because we were from abroad, but the truth is, the Khandaan is this nice to each other as well. The boys swap motorcycles and clothes, share each other’s adventures, and often steal each other’s food. The girls not only run a communal closet, but they also maintain a close network of phone connections and late-night card games and sleepovers for any cousin whose parents might be out of town. As far as the interaction BETWEEN the boys and girls are concerned, the boys willfully do any and all errand-running for the girls, and in exchange, the girls make tea and omelets and fresh roti at 4 am for boys who weren’t hungry at dinner but now claim they’re about to faint from hunger. (turnips for dinner, can you blame them?)
At first I found this exchange of service to be very quaint, almost rustic, and slightly chauvanistic. (The girls are making tea for the boys? What, the boys don’t know how to make it themselves?) As a person raised abroad, I used to be very weirded out with the idea making of anyone but my father any sort of meal, at any time of day or night. “Make it yourself!” would be the typical answer. You wouldn’t readily iron someone’s shirt, especially not your dweeby little brother’s, not unless your mother made you Even then you wouldn’t care whether it was nicely done, because service was servitude and servitude was oppression!
There is a big difference though, in that servitude is done from compulsion, and service is done out of love. This is something I have come to understand only after seeing the practical application of love in my Khandaan. I already knew love in theory, but love as an application was a horse of another color. It’s still very novel to me that my aunt insists on washing and ironing all of my uncle’s shirts, even though the family is quite well-off and could afford to have every article of clothing in the house professionally laundered on a weekly basis, all the way down to the socks, underwear and bed linens. She does it herself because she takes pride in the creases on my uncle’s shirt, and that is one of the ways that she shows she loves him. He, in turn, will come home from work with exciting things, often gold jewelry, for no reason whatsoever. When she asks for grocery money, they’ll battle over his wallet though they’re both in their fifties, and she’ll usually end up with a few thousand rupees in excess of what she asked for.
Aniraz and I learned a lot from staying with the Khandaan, and when our parents and brother joined us after being apart for six months, we made tea, we ironed shirts, we cooked eggs at 3 am, and nearly gave them all heart-attacks from the shock our change in behavior caused. It took a bit to see the results of the ‘applied love,’ because it takes some getting used to when a person presents a favor that you haven’t even asked for. But soon, you start to appreciate what they’ve done, and you want to do the same for them, because you’re really grateful, and it makes you feel loved.
Is love as simple as making tea and buying your sister bangles? Sometimes. But it isn’t the act of cooking or shopping itself, it’s the sentiment behind actually doing something for someone for the simple reason that you love them. The applied love is both a cause and an effect, because the person who initiates it is acting on the effect of love, and the person who gets the kindness becomes effected, and begins to return the favor.
I would actually argue that doing things out of love is more important than just saying ‘I love you.’ I remember a story that my father once told me, that I think was originally told by Sayyid Abu Ala Maududi. In that story, an old father is thirsty, so he says to his son, “Son, I’m thirsty, could you please bring me some water?” And the son says, “I love you dad,” but he doesn’t bring the water.
The father is really parched, so he says again, “Son, please, I need some water.” And the son just hugs his old father and says, “Dad, I love you SO much.” The father is getting desperate, he hasn’t had anything to drink at all and he pleads, “Son, I’m dying, please give me water!” And the son only kisses his father tenderly on the forehead and says, “Dad, I really love you.”
And then the father dies.
This is one of those stories that your parents tell you to freak you out, and it really should too. You wonder what kind of love you give them, whether you’re doing any applied love or whether you’re just giving your parents lip service. In the end, what you say doesn’t matter one tenth of what you do, because love isn’t what you say, it’s what you do.
As I sit here typing this, I’m eating the ice-cream that my father brought home for no reason. He claims he’s psychic, and we think he’s right. Basically, any time that anyone in our house has muttered, “I feel like ice-cream…” my dad has gotten these brain-waves that tell him to buy ice-cream, regardless of where he was in the city at the time. This may be due to the fact that any time is a good time for ice cream (Usman will agree, I’m sure), but it’s also due to the fact that something my father said to us one time (right after he had brought home ice-cream) “I must remember to treat my daughters as guests, because they won’t be in this house forever. They will leave, and I won’t be able to enjoy them any more.”
I think the same about my parents, that I should be treating them as guests as well, not taking them for granted or ever forgetting how much I owe them for the love they’ve shown me. After all, they won’t be in this house forever.